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JAX Open Technology Award

“Open source makes all of this possible” – Akka creator Jonas Bonér

Coman Hamilton
© Akka

JAX Award winner and Akka founder Jonas Bonér explains the success behind the JVM toolkit and how open source is the reason it exists.

This year’s JAX Award for Most Innovative Open Technology went straight to Akka and its highly engaged community. Jonas Bonér, the man behind Akka, told us his JVM toolkit wouldn’t have been possible without its contributors.

JAXenter: Congratulations on winning a JAX Innovation Award! How does it feel?

Jonas Bonér, Akka founder: I am very happy and honoured, and on behalf of the Akka Team I want to thank everyone that voted for Akka. We are so grateful to have such an amazing–passionate, engaged and positive–community. Akka would not be anything without you guys. Thank you.

What do you think it is that made hundreds upon hundreds of developers vote for Akka as this year’s most innovative tech?

I think it is because Akka is both addressing real pain points in today’s systems, and is pushing the envelope and innovation in the industry.

Akka makes you feel empowered by making things that used to be very hard quite easy and straightforward, allowing you to do things that you didn’t dare doing before–and something that I hear a lot is that it “makes programming fun again”.​

Could you tell us the story of how Akka got started – has the original goal changed since it was launched?

​The story of Akka is pretty well covered in the 5 year anniversary post I wrote last year​. Akka has been rewritten more than once over the last 6 years, but I think we managed to stay surprisingly true to the original vision I wrote up on the Scala mailing list in early 2009. I started thinking about creating Akka back in 2008 and was started out of disappointment and frustration of the “state of the art” in how we build resilient and scalable systems on the JVM.

Share-nothing architectures and design for resilience

I had spent several years building and using traditional middleware products and OSS frameworks, tools and techniques and they just didn’t work that well. As a result I lost faith in not just the tools of the trade but the practices and principles they were build on. That set me off on a journey exploring alternative approaches and ways of thinking. It led me back in history where I, among other things, discovered Erlang, which made me understand and embrace share-nothing architectures and design for resilience.

Coming back to Java I realized that most what I had been doing, and that the “Java enterprise” industry’s approach to distributed systems, concurrency, state and failure management, was fundamentally flawed. As the OSS developer I was I decided to try to do something about it and started working on Akka. The first public release was in mid 2009, it immediately formed a passionate community around itself and has been living its own life ever since.

What’s your favourite aspect of Akka?

I think that ​Akka’s biggest contribution to the JVM ecosystem is its approach to failure management. It allows developers to design for failure​; ​to manage failure in isolation (so called “bulkheading”) without having to worry about it cascading across the application. ​

By moving away from the broken, synchronous exception model (try-catch​)​ in Java, it allows you to reify the failures as messages that can be sent off asynchronously to any interested party, not just thrown in the user’s face, taking down the whole call stack along with it. That said, I think my favorite aspect of Akka–perhaps its most under-appreciated feature, but the one that ties it all together–is location transparency.

How has being open source been an advantage to Akka?

​It made Akka possible. I don’t think it would have been possible to reach this level of maturity, innovation and success without the amazing community around Akka. Passionate developers contributing code, ideas, reviewing pull requests, spreading the word at conferences and at their workplaces. Open Source makes all of this possible.

It engages people, breaks down walls, brings them together and creates a platform for collaboration, creativity and exploration that would not have been possible behind closed doors.

“Open Source is driven by real need and pain points”

It’s a very different way of driving innovation, compared to the traditional way​ of “design by committee” driving through specifications on whiteboards with vendors setting the agenda, Open Source is driven by real need and pain points, developers trying to solve practical problems here and now. The openness and the collaboration aspect creates hardening extremely early with only the best ideas, solutions and implementations surviving.

Author
Coman Hamilton
Coman was Editor of JAXenter.com at S&S Media Group. He has a master's degree in cultural studies and has written and edited content for numerous news, tech and culture websites and magazines, as well as several ad agencies.

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